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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

Generations of London English: Language and Social Change in Real Time

Investigators: Prof Devyani Sharma (PI, QMUL), Prof Paul Kerswill (QMUL/York), Dr Kathleen McCarthy (QMUL), and Prof Sam Hellmuth (York)

Postdoctoral researchers: Andy Gibson (QMUL), Elisa Passoni (QMUL), and Joe Pearce (York)

The Department of Linguistics is delighted to announce a new grant-funded collaboration with colleagues at the University of York.

Project summary

London has historically been the most important source of both standard and urban vernacular British English. In the last quarter century, some of the most significant British dialect innovations have taken place in London, spurred by migration and rapid social change. The first generation of people to speak these new contact-driven varieties (e.g. Multicultural London English) are now middle-aged and the second generation are adolescents or children. This time vector creates a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for longitudinal tracking of dialect in real time, as a window into the cognitive and social forces that will shape the future of the language. We integrate approaches from sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and social psychology to address three objectives:

To track changing London speech in real time: We ask how and why certain linguistic forms have spread, changed, or receded, to clarify whether working-class and ethnic minority speech features are becoming part of casual London speech, or whether ethnic and class divides are deepening. The data will comprise a new London English Corpus, the first to span age, year of recording, social class, ethnicity, and gender.

To understand change within the lifespan: Tracking children and young adults longitudinally, we examine how speech repertoires and dialect control develop in young childhood, adolescence, and middle age.

To clarify implications for equality: We test perceptions of changing voices, including real-world consequences such as whether accent affects what we remember about a person. This work will inform and update our public engagement work on accent bias and obstacles to social mobility.

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